9. Delegated management of allotments (Q8)
9.1 Section 123 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 (the Act) covered the option of delegating the management of allotment sites to an individual or – more usually – an association representing the interests of the majority of tenants at a site. The section set out (i) the circumstances in which such a request for delegation can be made; (ii) the responsibilities that can be delegated; (iii) the process for submitting and responding to a request to take on delegated responsibilities; and (iv) the circumstances in which delegated powers can be rescinded. The guidance statement put forward in the consultation paper drew attention to the list of functions available for delegation set out in section 123, and the option of a reduction in rent for those taking on such delegated duties.
9.2 The consultation paper included the following question covering section 123:
123. Delegation of management of allotment sites
This section allows a person (usually an allotment association) to request to take on some of the functions of a local authority. The functions that may be delegated are clearly described in section 123(3). If an authority agrees to delegate functions to a person, consideration should be given to whether a reduction in rent might be warranted.
Question 8: To what extent do you agree with this statement? [strongly agree / agree / neither agree nor disagree / disagree / strongly disagree]
9.3 A total of 225 respondents – all but one of the respondents to the consultation – answered the tick-box part of Question 8. Table 9.1 shows that almost two-thirds of respondents (63%) indicated agreement with the statement with 38% agreeing and 25% agreeing strongly. The broad pattern of responses was similar for organisations and individuals, although individuals were more likely to neither agree nor disagree with the statement: almost a quarter of individuals (23%) ticked this response.
Table 9.1: Question 8 – 123. Delegation of management of allotment sites
|LAs / other public bodies||Third sector organisations||All organisations||Individuals||All respondents|
|Neither agree nor disagree||0||0%||3||17%||3||12%||45||23%||48||21%|
Note: Figures may not total 100% due to rounding.
9.4 A total of 86 respondents – 14 organisations and 72 individuals – provided comments at Question 8. These focused on the principle of delegated management; the possibility of rent reductions for those taking on delegated duties; the relationship between self-managed sites and local authorities; factors affecting the viability and success of delegated management arrangements; and calls for greater clarity and further guidance. Each of these is discussed below.
The principle of delegated management
9.5 In many cases, respondents welcomed the option of delegated management and more autonomy for local groups. They thought that local groups were more knowledgeable about local circumstances and 'closer to the issues', and could operate in a more accountable, less bureaucratic way than centralised local authority managers. It was also suggested that such arrangements might empower communities and foster a sense of responsibility and 'ownership' amongst allotment holders. The issue of delegated waiting lists attracted some particular attention. Some suggested that allotment associations already maintained waiting lists successfully, and that a simple annual return to the local authority would suffice in terms of allowing the collation of local authority level information.
9.6 Some respondents noted positive experiences of self-management arrangements that were already in place and operating successfully.
9.7 The alternative view – expressed by some of those who indicated disagreement with the statement offered – was that local authority management was preferable, particularly with regard to waiting lists, as this allowed for a consistent and coordinated approach to be taken. One local authority respondent who indicated strong disagreement with the statement provided at Question 8 argued that this arrangement was appropriate as local authorities were regarded as 'trusted guardians' of allotment provision. Others with reservations about delegated management suggested that (i) such arrangements were open to abuse or could give rise to conflict; (ii) committee members did not have the time or resources to take on such duties although they might be done as part of a paid (part-time) role, and (iii) pointed out that private sites were available for those who preferred other arrangements.
Rent reductions in return for delegated management
9.8 Respondents who welcomed the prospect of rent reductions for those who took on delegated management responsibilities thought that this was fair recognition given the work involved and the cost saving for local authorities.
9.9 Others, however, had reservations about the impact or value of such an arrangement. They were, for example, concerned that rent reductions might lead to a reduced commitment to allotment plots or that some people may be interested in taking on management duties purely in the hope of achieving a rent reduction; or that reduced income would have an impact on the local authority's ability to provide allotment services or suggested that any administrative savings for the council should be used to fund site improvements. Alternatively, it was suggested that rent reductions were unlikely to have a big impact in terms of encouraging people to take on delegated duties given that the system already relied on individuals contributing significantly to the running of sites.
9.10 There was also a suggestion that any savings achieved by local authorities through delegating responsibilities to allotment associations should be used to fund allotment improvements rather than reductions in rents.
Relationship between self-managed sites and local authorities
9.11 Respondents made two main points relevant to the issue of the relationship between self-managed sites and local authorities: (i) it was important that ongoing links and good relationships with local authorities were maintained, and (ii) self-management should not be seen as a substitute for local authorities carrying out their responsibilities with regard to allotments, and allotment waiting lists.
Factors affecting viability and success of delegated management
9.12 A range of respondents noted that the success of delegated management arrangements depended very much on the individuals involved in allotment sites and associations at any point, which could vary over time. In particular there were concerns about:
- How inclusive allotment associations were
- How people are chosen to take on duties
- The risk of arrangements being adversely affected by the involvement of particularly dominant personalities
- Delegated management compromising the relationship between committee members and other allotment holders and / or leading to conflict or bad feeling amongst plot holders.
9.13 Several respondents argued that the right to request delegated management should be restricted to associations and not individuals, or that associations should be required to have an appropriate constitution in place. It was further argued that there should be appropriate 'checks and balances' in place, with monitoring to oversee delegated management, and to take back control in response to misuse of power or failure to carry out duties to an adequate standard. Local authority respondents were amongst those offering such comments relating to steps that might be taken to ensure good governance. There were also several suggestions for training to be provided for committees (see also Question 9), or for information and support and / or funding to be provided to help associations establish self-management arrangements.
The need for greater clarity on self-management arrangements
9.14 There was a range of calls for further clarity and additional guidance on the following:
- The roles and responsibilities that might be delegated, and the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved
- The different management models that might be adopted, and the implications involved
- The responsibilities, liabilities, risks and legal implications that might come with exercising this right
- The nature of the relationship between the local authority, the allotment association, and individual plot holders
- The relationship between fair rents and delegation of duties
- How the process for requesting delegated management related to the option for making a participation request under Part 3 of the Act.
9.15 It was also argued that local authorities had a duty toward allotment holders to make them fully aware of all the issues and implications involved, and should also be required to put procedures in place for dealing with complaints and disputes, including via mediation. The view that self-management arrangements would remove allotment activities from the scope of the Public Services Ombudsman was noted in this context.